Seven Tips for Young Managers with Older Workers

Seven Tips for Young Managers with Older Workers

For those that were raised to show respect and listen to elders, it can be incredibly uncomfortable to have to direct and critique older colleagues in the workplace. When a subordinate is many years or even decades more experienced, topics like performance reviews, pay scales, or suggestions for improvement can be very awkward for young managers. What are some ways we can make this easier?

Now that about a third of all millennial-aged workers hold managerial positions, younger leaders have been refining their cross-generational approach more than ever. We’ve gathered a snapshot of effective strategies that many have been using to overcome their discomfort and lead successful teams of any age.


1.) Ignore Stereotypes

According to authors with the Society of Human Resources (SHRM), younger managers should avoid buying into stereotypes about older workers. Pervasive stereotypes about older workers lacking energy or being unable to use technology are generally untrue. Believing in these things is a good way to lose the respect of teams. Instead, give all workers the same opportunities to be successful.


2.) Learn First

When a younger manager starts leading a team that has a lot of industry experience, they should start their new relationship by learning everything they can about how those teams operate. This can be thought of as kind of a reverse training effort. Taking the time to learn people and processes will go a long way toward building respect. No one respects a know-it-all, but they sure will respect someone that rolls up their sleeves and is willing to learn.


3.) Understand that Generations Communicate Differently

There’s little doubt that generations communicate differently, both in preferred mediums and in interpretation. Younger workers have a greater preference for written communications like text, emails, etc., while older workers tend to prefer more face-to-face interactions, phone calls, verbal, etc. For a younger manager to communicate effectively, they’ll need to understand that various generations interpret things differently. Work closely with teams to build a communication strategy that best fits everyone’s needs.


4.) Confidence Will Come

Imposter syndrome is a very real thing and can make a lot of new younger managers feel like they’re not cut out for the job. Compounding this feeling is the notion that more experienced subordinates may be skeptical of the young manager’s skills and ability to take charge. To fight these feelings, young managers should avoid projecting anxiety. Instead, remain calm in demeanor and clear in objectives. Be humble and willing to learn. In time, confidence will build and those imposter feelings will fade.


5.) Two-Way Feedback

One of the best methods to motivate and lead employees is to make them feel valued in the workplace. A great way to add to those feelings of value is through reciprocated feedback between younger managers and their more experienced subordinates. When workers have a suggestion that can improve processes, listen to it and act upon it. Recognizing and leveraging strengths is great for team building. And when a worker feels like their opinions are validated and heard, they tend to perform even better in their duties.


6.) Do Not Micromanage

There’s a very strong link between greater autonomy in the workplace and things like employee engagement, job satisfaction, and performance. Experienced workers have a good sense of the methods that work best. Too much course correcting or micromanaging is only going to increase feelings of frustration for everyone involved. Instead, focus on the results and the team’s ability to succeed over the specific steps they take to achieve them.


7.) Ask for Help When Needed

Asking for help when it’s needed says a lot about a leader. It’s a clear sign the person cares about excellence and has a willingness to learn. This is great for building respect and proficiency in the minds of older subordinates and is a far better alternative than pretending one has mastery over everything and making unnecessary mistakes. Just ask, listen, learn, and grow.


Overcome the Awkward

Managing people that have more experience can certainly be an awkward feeling for many younger leaders, but it will fade with time and practice. Keeping an open mind and being flexible will go a long way toward building leadership experience and strong working teams. All it takes is a willingness to build understanding and mutual respect, which will only grow as one moves forward with the right elements in place.